By Bill Rankin
The Georgia Supreme Cout on Monday declined to strike down a key provision of the state's tort reform law that divvies up damage awards to plaintiffs in liability cases.
By a 5-2 vote, the court ruled in a case brought by a person who was attacked and robbed by unknown assailants in August 2009. At the time, the victim, Nairobi Couch, was staying at a Red Roof Inns hotel in Atlanta.
Couch sued the hotel's owners for failing to keep their premises safe and failing to provide adequate security.
In response, Red Roof Inns filed a motion saying its liability for the attacks should be decreased in part or completely because the assailants were primarily responsible for the attack. The hotel chain cited a state law passed by the Legislature in 2005 that says juries should apportion damage awards among those responsible according to the percentage of faut of each defendant.
Couch's lawyer's, in a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Atlanta, had sought to declare that facet of the tort reform law unconstitutional.
U.S. District Judge Steve Jones, who is hearing the case, asked the Georgia Supreme Court to answer two questions to help guide him in the litigation: Can a jury consider the fault of the criminal assailants and divvy up a damage award based on the percentage of those responsible for Couch's attack? Could Jones give the jury a special jury form requiring it to decide how much the hotel and the assailants should pay Couch in damages, should the jury find both defendants liable?
In its decision Monday, the state Supreme Court told Jones that Georgia law allows both things to happen.
Justices Carol Hunstein and Robert Benham dissented to the majority's decision.